Proactively stopping thoughts of drinking or using

What To Do When Alcohol and Drug Cravings Hit: 6 Ideas

By Nina Bradshaw is a professionally qualified social worker and therapist in the UK. She earned a Master's Degree in Personality Disorder Studies, a Master's Degree in Cognitive Behavioral Therapy, and a Master's Degree in Sociology/Social Policy/Social Work.

Sober Recovery Expert Author

Proactively stopping thoughts of drinking or using

When I first quit drinking I knew that I would need something to fill all the time I had previously spent drinking. So I made a plan to keep myself occupied. I taught myself how to crochet. I read many, many books on alcohol recovery. I also went to meetings and took some time to look after myself.

However, just as things may seem to be getting better, cravings can sneak up from nowhere and hit you when you least expect it. In fact, I often found in my early sobriety that it was the unexpected situations that were more difficult to deal with than the predictable ones. It wasn’t so much the after-work drinks or the hard days in the office that was hard to manage, but the times when I was enjoying just pottering around my house doing normal household tasks, or the days or weeks after a supposedly “difficult situation” like a wedding or a big party.

If you are determined to keep your sobriety, then you have to find a way to manage your urges and maintain equilibrium even when the going gets tough.

Sometimes, at the end of a particularly challenging time in which you remained strong and vigilant, it’s easy to relax your guard and leave yourself vulnerable.

So what do you do when you find the urges to drink overwhelming? It’s always a good idea to have a plan. To get your ideas started, here are some things that I have found helpful when the urge to drink hits.

1. Distract yourself.

Coloring book and colored pencils

Find an absorbing activity you enjoy that will take you out of yourself and get your mind off the cravings. The desire to drink or use won’t last forever, so try to just find an activity to occupy you until it passes over.

2. Go to a meeting.

Group of people in a meeting

Whether it’s AA, SMART Recovery, or a local community recovery group, spending time with other people in recovery when the cravings hit is a sure-fire way of getting you through the difficult time.

3. Speak to a friend in recovery.

Two men sitting and talking

If no meeting is available, arranging to meet or talk on the phone with a trusted friend who knows what you are going through can make a crucial difference when you are struggling.

4. Take a hot bath.

Woman takes a relaxing hot bath

For me, a lovely hot bath filled with bubbles can ease the stress and take my mind to a much calmer place when the cravings are strong. If baths aren’t your thing perhaps you can find another relaxing and soothing activity that you could do.

5. Exercise.

Man runs on a sunny day

The benefits of physical activity are numerous, but it can be especially good when you feel the urge come over you. Exercise releases pent-up tension generates the “feel good” chemicals that help lift your mood, and leads you down a more positive path than giving in to your cravings.

6. Meditate.

Man in suit meditates on a park bench

As with any difficult feeling or emotion, meditation can help distance you from the cravings and help you see them for what they are: a transitory feeling that you don’t have to act on.

These are just some of the things you can do to help you get through your cravings. For those who are determined to keep their sobriety, you have to find ways to manage these urges and maintain equilibrium even when the going gets tough.

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